Thursday, May 17, 2007


The New McCarthyism

by Sara at Orcinus

So here's Joe Scarborough on MSNBC this evening, braying that when people like Don Imus and Opie and Anthony are taken off the air because they cross the line and say offensive things on the air, they're actually victims of "the new McCarthyism."

This is the kind of foamy blather that quickly congeals into stubborn, hard-to-get-out right-wing talking points, so it's important to wipe it up quickly before it sticks. (Last month, they tried to characterize what happened to Imus as a "lynching." What we have here is apparently a second-generation attempt to get traction on the same idea, using different language.)

For those of you who weren't there and didn't read about it: Back in the early 50s, Joe McCarthy went after people for exercising their Constitutional rights to freedom of thought, speech, association, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. Thousands of people (my father-in-law, a UCLA sociology professor, included) got hauled up before Congress and/or fired from their jobs because of nothing more than the magazines they read, the people they befriended, the clubs they joined. Most of these people were not public figures -- they were businesspeople, academics, artists, and professionals. Disproportionate numbers of them were immigrants and Jews. All of them were subject to levels of government investigation that nobody this side of Abu Gonzales could possibly construe as constitutional.

Note, however: Not one of those people got on the public airwaves and made ugly sexual comments about black women -- which is the common thread that connects Imus with Opie and Anthony. (That and the fact that, also like Imus, Opie and Anthony were repeat offenders -- CBS booted them in 2003 for similarly offensive remarks.) But, as Dave has already explained, when you're standing on a public platform that belongs to somebody else, you're subject to having the plug pulled on you if you say things that either the owners or the listeners find offensive.

Scarborough says that if we don't like shock jocks, we should change the channel. But he seems to ignore the fact that if enough people change the channel, those who own the channel are going to get the message. What happens next is not "McCarthyism," or "lynching" or "censorship." It's called the free market -- you know, the same one the right wing is always insisting is the ultimate solution to all our problems.

In this case, they're absolutely right. Opie and Anthony gleefully described the violent rape of Condi Rice. And the free market -- in the guise of their Sirius bosses -- rendered its judgment on their behavior.

Don't blame McCarthy for this one, Joe. The real culprit you're looking for is Adam Smith.

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